Some Thoughts After Two Great Nights of Furthur
Having seen two of the first three nights of the tour (Manchester and Wilkes Barre), a few thoughts about the band, how well they are playing, and the music. Since I am posting this in the thread of Wilkes Barre reviews, I’ll address that show first. The first set was filled with highlights, including a terrific Bucket > Half Step opener, and a great version of Althea, perhaps this band’s best. But two additional items bear mention: one is the new Weir song Big Bad Blues. It is a great tune, the band digs into it, wonderful Hunter lyrics, I just can’t say enough about it. The vocal bridge, with everyone in the band singing the line “rat shack talk about a one eyed jack” is alone worth the price of admission. Who is the Jack of Diamonds? Weir? Jerry? Both? Hard to say, but I love the tune. The second thing was the ending of the set - very nicely played Music, followed by an absolutely over the top Casey Jones. I simply can not describe the end of Casey Jones, with the band speeding up each chorus to the point where everyone was laughing, Chimenti practically falling off of his bench, Phil grinning ear to ear - just get ahold of a recording of the show and give it a listen.
Second set started out with a very tight One More Saturday Night, and a nice version of the Weight, everyone in the audience singing along to the chorus. Just before the set started, after band was on stage, Weir and JK were consulting, I guess figuring out who was going to take which verse of the Weight. Then things got very serious - Estimated > Eyes > Fire > Viola Lee > Dear Prudence. Each song superbly played with great energy, perfect spot on transitions, no lyric flubs, just smoking hot all the way through. In particular the Chimenti piano solo on Eyes, the great guitar work by JK on Fire, the entire band taking it to a different level on Viola Lee Blues, and a gorgeous, gorgeous Dear Prudence. At that point we were ready for a Not Fade or a Sugar Mag, but the opening power chord of Help on the Way let us know we had a good 20 minutes of music left. Wild Slipknot in the new style, taking the jam way out before bringing it back, and the Phil power chord at the transition point between Help on the Way and Slipknot was one for the ages - you could feel it go all the way through your body, and I was surprised the PA system didn’t blow out. What a show!
All that being said, Manchester, the opening night of the tour, was no slouch. I loved the opening - Playin > Cold Rain, Cassidy. Very hot Bertha > Good Lovin’ to close the set, which was a real treat. The hidden gem in there was the Lazy River Road, one of my favorite late Jerry songs, and beautifully played. Second set also extremely well played. The Shakedown > Jack Straw opener was superb, and the Jack Straw one of the hottest on record by this band. Great Let It Grow, soaring vocals on the Wheel, and yes, a distinct and clearly intentional Supplication jam before the King Solomon’s Marbles. Classic, beautiful, moving Black Peter, surprise Gimme Some Lovin’ with Phil and JK singing together, like the old Phil and Brent versions. Beautiful Uncle John’s, one of the best I’ve heard from Furthur, and then the only option to close, the Playin’ playout.
A couple of last thoughts. Phil continues to astonish. The Manchester show clocks in at a full three hours of music, and Phil doesn’t let up, just playing his heart out. JK seems more and more assertive, and he was turned up and very clear - he was very, very hot in the Bertha, the Jack Straw, the Let It Grow and Gimme Some Lovin’ from Manchester, and pretty much the entire show in Wilkes Barre. And Bobby is very focused - none of the going back to his equipment constantly, almost perfect with lyrics the two shows I saw, really spot on. Russo amazes me on the drum kit - it is like watching an octopus play the drums. Last thing - very inventive setlists - both first and second sets. I was a bit worried from the ‘early’ fall tour that the first sets were becoming relatively short warm ups, as they were for the Dead in the late 80s and 90s. But both first sets I saw were long, hot, and had great song selections. Thanks Furthur! Can’t wait for MSG Thursday night!